President Bush declared yesterday that the United Nations has reached a "moment of truth" on Iraq and warned the world organization that it is flirting with irrelevance if it does not support the American position.
"You'll see us over the next short period of time working with friends and allies and the United Nations to bring that body along," Bush told applauding Republican lawmakers at a retreat in West Virginia. "And it's a moment of truth for the United Nations. The United Nations gets to decide shortly whether or not it is going to be relevant in terms of keeping the peace, whether or not its words mean anything."
The president addressed the GOP congressmen and senators at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs as U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said in Baghdad that he saw an improvement in Iraq's attitude toward inspections and chief nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei said he expected the U.N. Security Council to give the inspectors more time.
The White House was unmoved by the inspectors' remarks. "Given the fact that Saddam Hussein is not disarming, time is running out," Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer said.
With congressional leaders seated at the dais, lawmakers and their families were eating breakfast at the resort when Bush entered. The president, who spent the weekend at Camp David, used his 18-minute address to further the administration's effort to bind Iraq to the war on terrorism.
"The issue facing our nation and the world is the extension of the war on terror to places like Iraq," Bush said. "Prior to September the 11th, there was apparently no connection between a place like Iraq and terror. Oh sure, he had run some terrorist networks out of his country and that was of concern to us, but it was very difficult to link a terrorist network and Saddam Hussein to the American soil." That changed after Sept. 11, 2001, Bush said, because Americans know "we are vulnerable."
Echoing a charge made this week by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell before the United Nations, Bush said, "There's links between Baghdad and a killer who actually ordered the killing of one of our fellow citizens," an American diplomat in Jordan.
Hussein, Bush said, "wants the world to think that hide-and-seek is a game that we should play. And it's over."
On domestic matters, Bush urged the lawmakers to pass his $670 billion tax-cut package, including a cut in the stock dividend tax that has raised concerns among Republican moderates. Bush won an ovation when he called for Congress to "end the double taxation of dividends."
He also called for action on two other controversial elements of his domestic agenda: the judicial confirmation of conservative lawyer Miguel Estrada, over which Democrats are contemplating a filibuster, and the administration's energy plan. As in the State of the Union address last month, Bush did not mention the most contentious element of that plan, energy drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
He again asked for action on the Medicare health plan for the elderly but did not offer a specific proposal. He also urged passage of his budget, which he called "responsible" and "realistic." While asking for spending restraint, he did not discuss the White House's projection of a record-level federal deficit of more than $300 billion.
"I know there is a lot of people paying attention to what's happening overseas and so am I, but I want to begin by reminding us that we've got a domestic agenda that is positive and strong and hopeful and optimistic," Bush said.